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Cal hires two-time NBA champion to resurrect basketball program

Cal hired Mark Madsen to rebuild the men's basketball program. | Sam Wasson/Getty Images

A poorly-kept secret became official Wednesday morning when Cal officially hired Mark Madsen to become the school’s 19th head basketball coach.

Madsen was head coach at Utah Valley for the past four seasons, guiding the Wolverines to a 70-51 record and a pair of Western Athletic Conference (WAC) regular season titles. The Wolverines were defeated on Tuesday night by UAB in the NIT Semifinals in Las Vegas.

Madsen was long considered the heir apparent to the job at his alma mater, Stanford, but the Cardinal decided to retain Jerod Haase after a disappointing 14-19 season. Stanford was one of just three teams to lose to Cal all season as the Golden Bears went 3-29 under Mark Fox, who was fired at the season’s conclusion.

A Bay Area native, Madsen was born in Walnut Creek and played for legendary coach John Raynor at San Ramon Valley before taking a two-year Mormon mission to Málaga. The Cardinal reached the Final Four in Madsen’s sophomore year, 1998. He then went on to win two NBA Championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, where he became a hit at championship parades both for his fluency in Spanish and his dance moves. After three years as a bench player for the Lakers, he spent six seasons in a similar role for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Mark Madsen led Utah Valley to the NIT Semifinals before taking on head coaching for Cal's basketball team. | Sam Wasson/Getty Images

Madsen was an assistant coach at Stanford for the 2012-13 season under Johnny Dawkins, then assisted with the Lakers from 2013 to 2019 before taking the Utah Valley job. His predecessor, Mark Pope, beat him out for the position at BYU. Madsen’s UVU teams beat the Cougars in each of the last two seasons, defeating them at home in overtime in December 2021 and posting a convincing 15-point win in Provo in 2022.

After not landing the job at the flagship university of his faith or at his alma mater, Madsen has instead landed with his collegiate rival, on a campus barely 20 miles from his high school. He already has experience recruiting from the Bay Area; Vallejo native and Salesian alum Jaden McClanahan was on his team at Utah Valley this season.

While Madsen is most remembered in the Bay Area for his time at Stanford, coaches crossing to the other side of the Cal-Stanford rivalry isn’t new. Mike Montgomery, who coached Madsen at Stanford, coached the Golden Bears for six years after spending 18 seasons at Stanford. Cardinal baseball coach David Esquer held the Cal job before the position opened up at his alma mater, and new Stanford football coach Troy Taylor quarterbacked Cal for four seasons in the 1980s.